WASHINGTON — The US House of Representatives on April 14 voted 415-11 to pass the Food Allergy Safety, Treatment, Education, and Research Act of 2021 (FASTER Act), which will add sesame to the list of major food allergens for which labeling is required. The Senate passed the FASTER bill on March 3. Having been approved by both houses of Congress, the measure was sent to the White House for President Joe Biden’s signature.
The FASTER Act set Jan. 1, 2023, as the date by which food companies are required to declare the presence of sesame on food packaging labels.
Sesame will be the ninth major food allergen for which labeling is required under the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA) joining peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soy, dairy, eggs, and wheat. Sesame will be the first new allergen to be added to the original FALCPA list since that act took effect on Jan. 1, 2006.
The FASTER Act also requires the Secretary of Health and Human Services within 18 months of enactment to submit a report to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, and the House Committee on Energy and Commerce a report to cover several items.
The report must include descriptions of federal activities involved with the surveillance and collection of data on the prevalence of food allergies and severity of allergic reactions for specific food or food ingredients. This requirement would involve reporting on the development of effective food allergy diagnostics, the prevention of the onset of food allergies, the reduction of risks related to living with food allergies, and the development of new therapeutics.
The report also must include a specific recommendation “for the development and implementation of a regulatory process and framework that would allow for the timely, transparent, and evidence-based modification of the definition of ‘major food allergen’ included in section 201 (qq) of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.”
This related to establishing scientific criteria for defining additional food or food ingredients as “major food allergens” should health authorities or Congress deem that that is required. The act would provide opportunities for stakeholder engagement and comment, as appropriate, when any such modification was being considered.
The FASTER Act was championed in the House by Representative Doris Matsui of California and Representative Patrick McHenry of North Carolina.
“Today is a testament to the hard work of thousands of food allergy advocates who sent emails, made calls, and visited members of Congress and staff to build support and make sesame the ninth allergen to be labeled under law,” Ms. Matsui said. “The outpouring of support was incredible, and I’d like to thank Lisa Gable and everyone at FARE (Food Allergy Research & Education) for their hard work mobilizing this dedicated, resilient community. The FASTER Act will truly make a difference for those living with potentially life-threatening food allergies, and we are proud that it will now be signed into law.”
Mr. McHenry added, “Today, I was proud to see the FASTER Act pass the House. This bill provides a much-needed update to allergen labeling laws to include sesame, which affects the over 1.5 million people allergic to sesame. Additionally, the bill will enable us to better treat the millions of Americans who suffer from life-threatening food allergies by requiring the Secretary of Health and Human Services to regularly review promising food allergy treatments and research.”
Lisa Gable, chief executive officer of FARE, said, “On behalf of the nearly 1.6 million Americans who are allergic to sesame, I thank Representative Doris Matsui of California and Representative Patrick McHenry of North Carolina for championing this critical piece of bipartisan legislation and now look forward to President Biden signing it into law.”
Ms. Gable said sesame will be required to be declared on labeling in “plain language,” employing its common name. She noted sesame often has been used when a label reads “natural flavors” or “natural spices,” adding another layer of difficulty when consumers review product labels at their local grocery store.
“This is terrific progress for our food allergy community,” said Kenneth Mendez, president and CEO of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. “Adding sesame to the major allergen list is a much-needed change and a significant part of this legislation. We’re grateful to our counterparts at FARE for spearheading efforts on the FASTER Act and supporting our recommendation to add sesame to this legislation.”
Even as the FASTER Act worked its way through Congress both this year and last (both houses of Congress last fall passed the FASTER Act, but the 116th Congress adjourned before the measure could be sent to president), sesame was on the FDA’s radar screen. The FDA in November 2020, pointing to the growing number of Americans allergic to sesame, issued a draft guidance to industry calling on food manufacturers to voluntarily disclose of the presence of sesame in their products.